Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, Feb. 25, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

As we approach a full year of the coronavirus pandemic, scientists continue to work on vaccines — both for the virus and variants that have developed. One vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, provides strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19, new analyses show.

Meanwhile, drugmaker Moderna announced Wednesday it has created a new, experimental form of its virus vaccine to combat the concerning variant of the virus. And Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has shown in more than half a million people that it’s very effective at preventing serious illness or death, even after one dose.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.

Gov. Jay Inslee will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. today to discuss the 2021 legislative session and the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch here:

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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As Somalia’s COVID-19 cases surge, a variant is suspected

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A resurgence of COVID-19 cases is hitting Somalia hard, straining one of the world’s most fragile health systems, while officials await test results to show whether a more infectious variant of the coronavirus is spreading.

In the lone COVID-19 isolation center in the capital, Mogadishu, 50 people have died in the past two and a half weeks, Martini hospital deputy director Sadaq Adan Hussein told The Associated Press during a visit. Sixty other patients admitted during the period have recovered.

“We believe this second wave is the new variant of the virus,” he said. “Earlier, when 100 suspected patients were brought to quarantine, not more than 30 of them would be positive, but now almost all of them are infected.”

Somalia’s virus infections have jumped from 4,784 to 6,549 this month alone, according to official data.

Test results for the presence of one of the new variants are expected next month, Sadaq said.

Somalia, like most African countries, has yet to see a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, though they also are expected to start arriving next month.

—Associated Press
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Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

HONG KONG — Hong Kong began administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public Friday, kicking off its program offering free vaccinations to all 7.5 million residents.

People age 60 and older and health care workers are among the some 2.4 million people currently prioritized to receive vaccines at community centers and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong. The government said registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.

Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.

A poll published in January by the University of Hong Kong found respondents concerned about the Chinese vaccine’s efficacy.

A panel of Hong Kong experts said the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine after two doses, 21 days apart, was 62.3%. In contrast, a study in Israel found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has 92% effectiveness.

—Associated Press

Brazil death toll tops 250,000, virus still running rampant

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll, which surpassed 250,000 on Thursday, is the world’s second-highest for the same reason its second wave has yet to fade: Prevention was never made a priority, experts say.

Since the pandemic’s start, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro scoffed at the “little flu” and lambasted local leaders for imposing restrictions on activity; he said the economy must keep humming along to prevent worse hardship.

Even when he approved pandemic welfare payments for the poor, they weren’t announced as a means to keep people home. And Brazilians remain out and about as vaccination has started up — but rollout has proven far slower than was anticipated.

“Brazil simply didn’t have a response plan. We’ve been through this for the last year and still we don’t have a clear plan, a national plan,” Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, which advises public health officials, told the Associated Press. “There’s no plan, at all. And the same applies to vaccination.”

—Associated Press

Hold it! Belgian government warns against using its own free masks

BRUSSELS — Ten months after promising free cloth facemasks to protect all Belgians from COVID-19, the country’s government is having second thoughts — warning they could be dangerous and shouldn’t be used.

Belgian authorities said the masks contain miniscule traces of silver and a chemical compound that initial studies now show could affect the respiratory system when inhaled deeply. More studies are continuing.

Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told parliament on Thursday that “to be on the safe side while the studies continue, it is better to put (the masks) to the side.”

In all, the government ordered 18 million masks. Authorities started handing them out for free last year, but have not yet completed the distribution.

—Associated Press
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Christian Siriano offers mountain glam for second pandemic show

NEW YORK — Christian Siriano opened his second show of the pandemic Thursday with two ladies in bed, models who emerged flawless in black one-pieces, then dressed for all to see before hitting the runway.

It was a dreamy, color-saturated show during a tough time for fashion inspiration, Siriano said. He created an alternate reality inspired by a recent jaunt to Aspen, Colorado, to visit family for the first time in a year.

While most designers have gone fully digital during an expanded New York Fashion Week that has stretched the traditional calendar, Siriano remains committed to the runway.

“If you take this away, and the glamour, then it’s like I’m just at the office talking about money all day, and that’s not what I want,” he told The Associated Press after the fall-winter show attended by about 75 in-person guests. “I wouldn’t want to do this job if I couldn’t have this world.”

In this world, shared on Instagram Live, there were looks for hidden parties and cocktail hours in the Colorado mountains, and silky evening dresses in fuchsia and chartreuse. There were cutouts, and ruffles and lace for ombre and peekaboo impact. And there was Siriano muse Coca Rocha camping it up for the cameras in a voluminous black gown with a plunging neckline — after she woke up to start the show.

—Associated Press

Governor extends Oregon’s state of emergency due to COVID-19

PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday extended Oregon’s declaration of a state of emergency until May 2 as confirmed COVID-19 cases drop but hundreds of new cases continue to be reported daily.

“Throughout the pandemic, Oregonians have made smart choices that have protected our families and loved ones,” Brown said. “Our infection and mortality rates have consistently remained some of the lowest in the country. And, for the first time, COVID-19 critical care units are seeing fewer and fewer patients.”

The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday reported 553 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state total to 154,554. The state’s death toll is 2,204.

The agency’s weekly COVID-19 report, which was released Wednesday, shows a sharp decreases in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week.

The health authority reported a 35% decrease in cases and a 42% decrease in hospitalization.

—Associated Press

South Korea injects first shots in public vaccination campaign

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Friday administered its first available shots of coronavirus vaccines to people at long-term care facilities, launching a mass immunization campaign that health authorities hope will restore some level of normalcy by the end of the year.

The rollout of vaccines come at a critical time for the country, which has seen its hard-won gains against the virus get wiped out by a winter surge and is struggling to mitigate the pandemic’s economic shock that decimated service sector jobs. The vaccinations began shortly before the country reported another new 406 cases of the coronavirus, brining its caseload to 88,922, including 1,585 deaths.

More than 5,260 residents and workers at 213 nursing homes, mental institutions and rehab centers who are under the age of 65 will receive their first shots of a two-dose vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Friday.

An unspecified number of patients and workers at 292 long-term care hospitals in the same age group will also get the vaccine, according to officials at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

—Associated Press
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Inslee: Washington regions won’t have to backtrack on COVID-19 reopening for now

OLYMPIA — None of the eight regions of Washington’s COVID-19 reopening plan will be going backward toward more restrictions any time soon, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

In a news conference, Inslee announced a temporary pause to any region in his Healthy Washington plan returning to the first phase and tighter restrictions.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 infection numbers continue to decrease in Washington.

The governor Thursday didn’t outline a third phase to the plan, which would set out even looser restrictions for commerce and social activities.

In the plan’s second phase — which is now in effect across the state — restaurants can resume indoor service at 25% capacity up until 11 p.m. Meanwhile, indoor fitness centers and entertainment venues — like museums, bowling alleys and concert halls — can also operate at 25% capacity. Establishments that only serve alcohol and no food, however, remain closed.

Read the full story here.

—Joseph O'Sullivan

New coronavirus variant in New York spurs caution, concern

NEW YORK — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern.

The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighboring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week.

But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves.

“Most are not of particular concern,” said Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute.

However, he added, “Noticing them early, flagging them, raising concern is useful.”

That’s because some genetic tweaks can be worrisome, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are a potential problem.

—Associated Press

State health officials confirm 1,117 new coronavirus cases

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,117 new coronavirus cases and 30 new deaths on Thursday.

The update brings the state's totals to 337,653 cases and 4,942 deaths, meaning that 1.5% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

In addition, 19,224 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 13 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 83,611 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,390 deaths.

On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases in its total count. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases.

—Elise Takahama
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Anchorage vaccine clinics target Alaska’s Pacific Islanders

The Anchorage Health Department has arranged two mobile clinics to provide coronavirus vaccinations specifically targeting members of Alaska’s community of Pacific Islanders.

The clinics scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday this week were the first targeting a specific community since the pandemic began, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

‘VIP immunization’ for the powerful and their friends rattles South America

LIMA, Peru — The hope brought by the arrival of the first vaccines in South America is hardening into anger as inoculation campaigns have spiraled into scandal, cronyism and corruption, rocking national governments and sapping trust in the political establishment.

Two ministers in Peru and one in Argentina have resigned for receiving or giving preferential access to scarce vaccines. A minister in Ecuador is being investigated for doing the same.

Prosecutors in those countries and in Brazil are examining thousands more accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.

As accusations of wrongdoing ensnare more dignitaries, tension is building in a region where popular outrage with graft and inequality has spilled in recent years into raucous protests against the political status quo. The frustration could find an outlet in the streets again — or at the polls, shaping voter decisions in upcoming races such as Peru’s elections in April.

The anger at powerful line-cutters has been amplified by the scarcity of the vaccines. South America, like other developing regions, has struggled to procure enough doses as rich nations bought up most of the available supply.

—The New York Times

Consumer confidence rises for second straight month

FILE – In this Sept. 15, 2020 file photo, passers-by examine a storefront window, in Boston’s fashionable Newbury Street shopping district.  The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 91.3, up from 88.9 in January. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
FILE – In this Sept. 15, 2020 file photo, passers-by examine a storefront window, in Boston’s fashionable Newbury Street shopping district. The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 91.3, up from 88.9 in January. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

U.S. consumer confidence rose again in February as an accelerating COVID-19 vaccine push provides hope for Americans who have lived through a year of unprecedented restrictions.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 91.3, up from 88.9 in January.

However, despite the improved vaccination rollout, consumers are more optimistic about current conditions than they are about the near future. The present situation index, which is based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, rose to 92 from 85.5 last month.

But the expectations index — based on consumers’ near-term outlook for income, business, and labor conditions — ticked down slightly to 90.8 this month from 91.2 in January. That’s somewhat surprising to economists as many experts have predicted that widespread vaccinations and warmer weather could make for a summer of relative normalcy.

Read the story here.

—Matt Ott, The Associated Press
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As delays hamper some second coronavirus vaccines doses, a debate rages: Prioritize one shot or two?

The vast majority of recipients of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are able to get their second shot within the recommended period, according to vaccine data reviewed by The Washington Post. Yet, some people are still encountering problems navigating local programs and unplanned delays like bad weather or supply shortages.

More than a dozen people wrote to The Post, saying they faced barriers to getting a second appointment or were worried that they would. These anxiety-inducing hurdles come as an international debate is unfolding over how to best roll out the limited vaccine supply: prioritizing fully inoculating people who have had their first dose or offering partial protection with single doses to more people.

The United Kingdom chose the former.

New data from the U.K. show fewer infections after the country concentrated only on distributing first doses and holding off on giving second doses, while other recently released research found that delaying the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 90 days may be more effective and confirmed reports that a single dose may be enough to immunize people who were previously infected. But health experts in the United States are divided about halting the distribution of second doses, with some expressing concern that a population with limited protection could deal a blow to vaccines’ effectiveness as immune-resistant variants evolve.

—The Washington Post

King County Library System to open some branches for in-person service in March

Nearly a year after its doors closed at the start of the pandemic, King County Library System has announced that it is reopening some of its branches to walk-in patrons. Starting March 3, six locations will open at limited capacity: the Fall City, Kent, Muckleshoot, Skykomish, Tukwila and Woodmont branches.

All of the newly reopened branches will offer browsing, computer/wi-fi use, and staff assistance, though hours and services will vary by location. Patrons will be welcomed on a first-come, first-served basis, and staff will ensure that buildings stay at 25% capacity or lower, following current guidance from the state. Masks will be required, and locations will open and close multiple times throughout the day — after each hour open, the branch will close for an hour of cleaning. For specific hours for each branch, see kcls.org starting March 3.

The majority of KCLS’s other branches will continue to offer curbside service and book return at this time. Additional branches will be opened on a gradual basis.

—Moira Macdonald

EXPLAINER: Meet the vaccine appointment bots, and their foes

People wait in line for the COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson, N.J., on Jan. 21, 2021. Having trouble booking a COVID-19 vaccine appointment online? Some people have turned to social media vaccine “bots” that scan the patchwork of vaccination websites and send alerts when a clinic is ready to book new patients.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
People wait in line for the COVID-19 vaccine in Paterson, N.J., on Jan. 21, 2021. Having trouble booking a COVID-19 vaccine appointment online? Some people have turned to social media vaccine “bots” that scan the patchwork of vaccination websites and send alerts when a clinic is ready to book new patients. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Having trouble scoring a COVID-19 vaccine appointment? You’re not alone. To cope, some people are turning to bots that scan overwhelmed websites and send alerts on social media when slots open up.

They’ve provided relief to families helping older relatives find scarce appointments. But not all public health officials think they’re a good idea.

In rural Buckland, Massachusetts, two hours west of Boston, a vaccine clinic canceled a day of appointments after learning that out-of-towners scooped up almost all of them in minutes thanks to a Twitter alert. In parts of New Jersey, health officials added steps to block bots, which they say favor the tech-savvy.

What are bots? How do they work?

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Another wave of fans returning to sports despite COVID-19

Whitney Munro had some concerns about returning to sporting events. So, like any good mom, she did her homework, learning more about the policies in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Munro, 38, who lives in Coppell, Texas, with her husband, Rupert, and 13-year-old son, Riley, went to the Dallas Stars’ watch parties during their run to the Stanley Cup Final last year. She watched her Oklahoma Sooners’ Cotton Bowl win on Dec. 30, and she has season tickets for the Stars this year.

“I’ve actually felt really safe,” said Munro, who works in nonprofit management. “And I felt like the organizations who hosted the events that we’ve gone to have done a great job of putting in kind of just those type of parameters so that everyone feels comfortable and gets to actually go do this stuff.”

Another wave of fans is set to follow Munro into arenas and ballparks across the United States as more sports begin to host small crowds amid the pandemic.

Read the story here.

—Jay Cohen, The Associated Press

Literature from the COVID-19 era: 5 books to read if you haven’t already

It may be hard to believe, but it’s been a full year since the first COVID-19 lockdown in Washington state. Maybe it’s not hard to believe, since this pandemic flattens time into an even more incomprehensible thing than it was before.

Another effect: Writing and publishing continue to change and adapt. Since March 2020, a lot of books have been published, many authors have gone on virtual book tours and an increasing number of published books were at least partially written during the ongoing crisis. Here are five books that are either explicitly about, or engage with, the COVID-19 pandemic and its concurrent constellations of crises — in sometimes unexpected ways.

See our writer's picks here.

—Sarah Neilson, Special to The Seattle Times

Our food writers’ top 12 Seattle-area takeout picks from one long pandemic year

Seattle Times food writers Bethany Jean Clement, Jackie Varriano and Tan Vinh have eaten a lot — a lot — of takeout over the course of this past long year.

It hasn’t all been great, but they’ve been accentuating the positive — from all different neighborhoods and price points — hoping to assist struggling local restaurants and bored local mouths alike.

In honor of the year-old mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re sharing their favorites so far to help you keep getting through. (Please, please let it end relatively soon!)

Read about their favorite picks here.

—Bethany Jean Clement, Jackie Varriano and Tan Vinh
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Israeli DM moves to halt plan to share virus vaccines

Israel’s defense minister on Thursday called for an immediate halt in plans to ship surplus coronavirus vaccines to a group of allied nations, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of acting without oversight or transparency.

In a letter to the prime minister, Benny Gantz said the decision to share vaccines was taken without “discussions in the relevant forums.” He also questioned Netanyahu’s claims that Israel has surplus vaccines to give away.

Gantz demanded the matter be taken up by the country’s Security Cabinet. Gantz and Netanyahu are fierce rivals who battled to stalemates in three consecutive elections.

Read the story here.

—Josef Federman, The Associated Press

How would COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants?

How will COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants? (AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin)
How will COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants? (AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin)

How would COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants? By tweaking their vaccines, a process that should be easier than coming up with the original shots.

First-generation COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working against today’s variants, but makers already are taking steps to update their recipes if health authorities decide that’s needed.

COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are made with new technology that’s easy to update. The so-called mRNA vaccines use a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus, so your immune system can learn to recognize and fight the real thing.

If a variant with a mutated spike protein crops up that the original vaccine can’t recognize, companies would swap out that piece of genetic code for a better match — if and when regulators decide that’s necessary.

Updating other COVID-19 vaccines could be more complex. The AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, uses a harmless version of a cold virus to carry that spike protein gene into the body. An update would require growing cold viruses with the updated spike gene.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

China approves two more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use

A worker inspects syringes of a vaccine for COVID-19 produced by Sinovac at its factory in Beijing on Sept. 24, 2020. China approved two new more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use Thursday, adding to its growing arsenal of shots: one from CanSino Biologics and a second one from state-owned Sinopharm. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
A worker inspects syringes of a vaccine for COVID-19 produced by Sinovac at its factory in Beijing on Sept. 24, 2020. China approved two new more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use Thursday, adding to its growing arsenal of shots: one from CanSino Biologics and a second one from state-owned Sinopharm. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

China approved two more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use Thursday, adding to its growing arsenal of shots.

The National Medical Products Administration gave conditional approval to a vaccine from CanSino Biologics and a second one from state-owned Sinopharm. China now has four vaccines to immunize its population.

CanSino said its one-shot vaccine candidate is 65.28% effective 28 days after the dose is given. It can be stored at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius, “making it more accessible especially to the regions with underserved public health,” it said in a statement.

It relies on a harmless common cold virus, called an adenovirus, to deliver the spike gene of the coronavirus into the body. The body then makes the spike proteins, which generate an immune response. The technology is similar to both Astrazeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines, which rely on different adenoviruses.

It is the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by a Chinese company that requires only one shot.

Read the story here.

—Huizhong Wu, The Associated Press
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England minorities: Higher COVID-19 cases, fewer vaccinated

A woman wears protective face coverings as she passes the shutters of a closed shop in West Ealing in London, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. It has been announced that further testing of residents in the London Borough of Ealing will be carried out after additional cases of the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa were detected. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A woman wears protective face coverings as she passes the shutters of a closed shop in West Ealing in London, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. It has been announced that further testing of residents in the London Borough of Ealing will be carried out after additional cases of the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa were detected. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

England’s ethnic minority communities have higher levels of COVID-19 infections and lower levels of vaccine acceptance than other groups, according to a new study that highlights how the pandemic is worsening health inequalities.

The study found that 92% of people across England either have received or would accept a vaccine. But that figure dropped to 87.6% for Asians and 72.5% for Blacks, according to the study released Thursday by Imperial College London.

Read the story here.

—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Band practice in bright-green COVID-19 bubbles: How the return to high school looks in Central Washington

You can’t see them smiling beneath the masks, but students at Wenatchee and Eastmont high schools are glad to be back in school, even if it’s only part-time.

Eastmont high students have been back since Jan. 25 and Wenatchee high students since Jan. 26, each on a different hybrid schedule.

“It is amazing the level of energy in the building, having adults interacting with kids but also the conversations of adults to adults,” said Wenatchee Principal Eric Anderson. “You get kids back in the building, you get a lot of smiles even with masks on. You can tell people are happy.”

For Eastmont Principal Lance Noell, it was like walking into a dark room and turning on the light. “Completely rejuvenating. We are recharged. We feel like we’re educators again. It has been spectacular,” Noell said.

The social-emotional impact of being back in school has had a “massive impact” on students, Noell said. “The stories I hear from them are dark. It’s disturbing and scary."

Read the story here.

—Ian Dunn, The Wenatchee World, Wash.

Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

FILE – Carabinieri officers patrol one of the main access road to Bollate, in the outskirts of Milan, Italy. Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday to send more vaccines north to help stem a surge of new cases that are taxing the hospital system in the province of Brescia. Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily caseload go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday thanks in part to clusters of cases traced to the British variant.  (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
FILE – Carabinieri officers patrol one of the main access road to Bollate, in the outskirts of Milan, Italy. Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday to send more vaccines north to help stem a surge of new cases that are taxing the hospital system in the province of Brescia. Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily caseload go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday thanks in part to clusters of cases traced to the British variant. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday for more vaccines to help stem a surge of new cases that are taxing the health system in the province of Brescia.

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily caseload go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday, due in part to clusters of cases traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Brescia’s main public hospital has gone from an average of around 200 to 300 recently.

Read the story here.

—Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
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Vaccinated for virus, Jimmy Carter and wife back in church

FILE- In this Sept. 30, 2018 file photo, former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter are seen ahead of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, in Atlanta. Both have now had their coronavirus vaccines and are back at church. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)
FILE- In this Sept. 30, 2018 file photo, former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter are seen ahead of an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, in Atlanta. Both have now had their coronavirus vaccines and are back at church. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

Now that former President Jimmy Carter and his wife are vaccinated against COVID-19, they have returned to one of their favorite things: church.

Maranatha Baptist Church in tiny Plains, Georgia, announced on its Facebook page Wednesday that Carter, 96, and Rosalynn Carter, 93, were again attending worship in person.

Jimmy Carter hasn’t resumed teaching his Sunday school class, which once drew thousands of visitors annually. But video from last Sunday’s service showed both of the Carters sitting in their customary spots on the front pew and wearing face masks. The former president waved as members applauded their presence.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pfizer, Moderna or maybe J&J? Right now, the best vaccine for you is the one you can get

The anticipated authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine has raised a new question for many Americans: Which shot should I get?

The answer, experts say, is whichever one you can.

If approved, the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine would join the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are being distributed nationwide. Food and Drug Administration reviews have found all three vaccines to be highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Read the story here.

—Allyson Chiu, The Washington Post

Medical oxygen scarce in Africa, Latin America amid virus

A man sleeps on top of empty oxygen cylinders as he waits for a shop to open to refill his tank early Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in the Villa El Salvador neighborhood of Lima. The lack of medical oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients continues to be the norm in Peru. (Martin Mejia / The Associated Press)
A man sleeps on top of empty oxygen cylinders as he waits for a shop to open to refill his tank early Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in the Villa El Salvador neighborhood of Lima. The lack of medical oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients continues to be the norm in Peru. (Martin Mejia / The Associated Press)

A crisis over the supply of medical oxygen for coronavirus patients has struck nations in Africa and Latin America, where warnings went unheeded at the start of the pandemic and doctors say the shortage has led to unnecessary deaths.

It takes about 12 weeks to install a hospital oxygen plant and even less time to convert industrial oxygen manufacturing systems into a medical-grade network. But in Brazil and Nigeria, as well as in less-populous nations, decisions to fully address inadequate supplies only started being made last month, after hospitals were overwhelmed and patients started to die.

The gap in medical oxygen availability “is one of the defining health equity issues, I think, of our age,” said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who said he survived a severe coronavirus infection thanks to the oxygen he received.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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China denies subjecting US diplomats to COVID-19 anal tests

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus sits near a screen showing China and U.S. flags as she listens to a speech by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Lanting Forum on bringing China-U.S. relations back to the right track, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the U.S. Monday to lift restrictions on trade and people-to-people contacts while ceasing what Beijing considers unwarranted interference in the areas of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus sits near a screen showing China and U.S. flags as she listens to a speech by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Lanting Forum on bringing China-U.S. relations back to the right track, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the U.S. Monday to lift restrictions on trade and people-to-people contacts while ceasing what Beijing considers unwarranted interference in the areas of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

 China on Thursday denied subjecting U.S. diplomats to COVID-19 anal tests following reports from Washington that some of its personnel were being made to undergo the procedure.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing that “China has never asked U.S. diplomats in China to go through anal swab tests.”

The Washington Post reported last week that some U.S. personnel had told the department they had been subjected to the anal tests.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Biden aims to distribute masks to millions in ‘equity’ push

President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month as part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the government’s response to the pandemic.

Biden’s plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but instead through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation’s food bank and food pantry systems, the White House announced Wednesday.

The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture will be involved in the distribution of more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in both adult and kid sizes. The White House estimates they will reach 12 million to 15 million people.

“Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly, not all have access, and not all masks are equal,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

—Kris Higginson
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